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Internet Governance Update

14 November 2013
By Fadi Chehadé

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In recent days, the community has asked for more information about the background of events in Internet governance including the Montevideo Statement, meetings in Brazil and the Internet Governance Forum and so I wanted to write this blog as another way to complement my ongoing discussions with various community groups.

Since I joined ICANN last year, and in particular since the WCIT last December, many of us have been part of public and private discussions about the current state of and the future of Internet governance. Conversations across the spectrum of the global Internet community. And these conversations and discussions have tended to a core premise along the following lines…

The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world, and the catalyst for the creation of massive economic and social value worldwide. And in 2013 the Internet is bigger, moves faster, and is more global than ever.

But how should Internet governance evolve to keep pace? How should Internet governance arrangements evolve to meet the needs of today’s Internet? Holes are increasingly emerging in the Internet governance map as certain emerging topics and issues are not currently addressed and are having critical impacts. These wide-ranging issues, from cyber security to privacy and beyond, affect every user of the Internet, every member of the Internet community. And there is a growing clamor for solutions.

The organizations currently responsible or accountable for Internet governance, including all of us in the ICANN community, have worked hard – within their mandates – to address these issues.

However more work is needed to strengthen Internet governance and cooperation on issues through multistakeholder processes and there is a growing sense that we are running out of time to address these. That if we do not find a MSM path forward, we will have other more multilateral solutions imposed on the Internet and the strong danger of Internet fragmentation and policy fragmentation.

Some of you have asked why is ICANN involved, that this is someone else’s problem to fix.

The Board and Leadership Team of ICANN has a specific responsibility to protect and enhance ICANN’s ability to fulfill its mission. However, we are increasingly facing public and private requests to expand ICANN’s multistakeholder remit to tackle some of these emerging issues.

This is posing a challenge for us as this is not ICANN’s mission, and we cannot and should not be addressing them within ICANN.

At the same time, in the absence of action, there is an increased risk to ICANN through the threat of one-off single-stakeholder responses to these issues that will fragment and threaten the one, interoperable Internet that is critical to its ability to create and deliver value historically and in the future – and our ability to fulfill our mission.

Recent international events – directly related to the Internet or not – are impacting the context in which ICANN operates and make the addressing of these emerging issues even more pressing.

While the Internet Governance Forum provides an important venue for discussing internet governance, and I am encouraged by the three years of host country commitments since Bali that provides some certainty to the IGF, it is not a decision making forum, and so there is still an absence of alternative existing multistakeholder mechanisms for addressing and moving these emerging issues forward. Given this, I, and many people I talk to privately and publicly, believe ICANN will continue to experience demands, challenges, threats and growing risks to its ability to fulfill its mission.

In discussions with the ICANN Board, as this situation has come to a head, they gave ICANN staff a mandate to explore more actively with the Internet community alternatives to move forward as many of us believe we cannot wait.

That is what led to the discussions and collaboration with many of our sister Internet technical organizations to issue the joint Montevideo Statement addressing our belief in this context and the need to act to evolve existing mechanisms, while retaining a decentralized multistakeholder approach to Internet governance. If you’ve not read it yet, I encourage you to.

Following the Montevideo Statement, while in Brazil meeting with CGI – Brazil’s multistakeholder group and ICANN community leaders, an opportunity arose to meet President Rousseff and I did so to express our support and belief in multistakeholder approaches directly to her.

On the heels of President Rousseff’s speech to the UN General Assembly, where she touched on many of these same issues, she was looking for a way to address some of these orphan issues as well and volunteered to host a one-off, global multistakeholder conference in 2014 to help find a viable multistakeholder path forward.

Though the final nature of the conference will be decided with multistakeholder input, as I see it, the purpose of the conference is to address strengthening Internet cooperation by discussing high-level principles and institutional frameworks. It’s not a conference meant to produce proposals on specific Internet policy issues. We will hear more in the next couple of weeks about timings and location and other details from the hosts. But initial ideas have suggested that input to the conference will be accepted by the conference organizers to allow for public consultation and community input. And importantly the event will be designed to ensure global participation by the community directly or by remote means to ensure wider global engagement by all stakeholders. That’s critical – and a must have.

Obviously we’ll collectively need to work out how to ensure a manageable number of attendees while ensuring a balanced representation from global Industry, civil society, governments, academia, IGOs, and technical organizations and ensuring representation in addition from global thinkers and civic leaders.

The global meeting in Brazil has gained a lot of attention, and was certainly a topic of discussion in Bali at the Internet Governance Forum. The Brazilians were well represented there and in both Minister Bernardo’s opening remarks and in a series of public and private meetings that week I believe expressed their sincere desire for a multistakeholder organized, multistakeholder led and multistakeholder participation meeting. I hope as a community we can work together to make this a reality.

I’m a firm supporter of the multistakeholder model. I believe it provides the best path forward for resolving issues of Internet governance. This isn’t just an ICANN issue, this is why we want to be part of the “coalition of the willing” that my Board Director Chris Disspain referenced at AusIGF. So it’s not enough to have a conference next year, we need to actively start talking, discussing, proposing, debating within the broader, global Internet community to search for the right path to garner global legitimacy to address these issues, and in an appropriate multistakeholder way. We made a good start during the excellent IGF meeting and out of which a multistakeholder steering committee was created, chaired by Adiel A. Akplogan, CEO of AfriNIC to explore the best way to move this bottom-up Internet community initiative forward on how to tackle these emerging issues. They want to give voice to this global movement and are helping set up the website www.1net.org.  A place to inform, discuss and evolve the debate. They encourage broad participation and I hope many of us will participate.

A lot has been written and discussed during and after that meeting and I encourage you to read broadly. Two I found interesting were Byron Holland‘s and Jordan Carter’s blogs.

I believe the inclusion of all stakeholders as a part of the decision making or discussion process in Internet governance has enabled innovation at a scale and speed that very few would have predicted, ensuring that no one stakeholder group dominates (be that governments or others). A pure intergovernmental decision making approach would automatically exclude many of the stakeholders that were instrumental in the growth and development of the Internet. Its successful functioning depends on the willing cooperation and participation of ALL stakeholders.

I believe this is an important opportunity for our community to come together with the broader Internet community to discuss, explore and look for, if appropriate, a multistakeholder path forward and so I encourage everyone to participate and make your voices heard.


Fadi Chehadé

Former President & CEO